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Stasis, or the Greek invention of politics

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The Greek word stasis meant ‘faction’, ‘civil war’ but also ‘political standing’. This seems a strange contradiction, particularly since we credit the Greeks with having invented politics. This strange contradiction is partly explained by the nature of the Greek polis, which was not a State, but rather what anthropologists call a stateless community. The latter is a relatively unstratified egalitarian community characterized by the absence of public coercive apparatuses. However, though stateless, the Greek polis was also different from stateless communities studied by anthropologists as it was not tribal.

The fear of stasis was directly related to the absence of public means to check seditious factions or to deal with divisions which might be the outcome of having political standings. However, the absence of central authority, social hierarchy and kinship identity, gave room for much individual deliberation and made politics indispensable. Thus the Greeks indeed invented politics, yet the Greek concept of politics was different from the modern one in being predominantly ethical, that is, in seeking to curb ‘political standings’ by morality, education and self restraint.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Sociology and Political Science, The Open University of Israel, 16 Klausner St, PO Box 39328, 61392 Tel Aviv, Israel.

Publication date: March 1, 1998


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